Daily Fantasy NASCAR Track Preview: Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
One of the unique challenges with daily fantasy NASCAR is that every track is different. Not only does this mean that certain drivers will perform better at one place than another, but each track will have different scoring tendencies than the previous one. That means we need to alter our strategies pretty drastically.
Each week here on numberFire, we're going to dig into the track that's hosting the upcoming weekend's race to see what all we need to know when we're setting our lineups. We'll have a separate piece that looks at drivers who have excelled there in the past; here, we just want to know about the track itself. Once qualifying has been completed, we'll also have a primer detailing which drivers fit this strategy and should be in your lineup for that week.
This week, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is heading to Atlanta for the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500. What do we need to know about the track before filling out our NASCAR DFS lineups? Let's check it out.
A whole new era for NASCAR is about to begin this weekend.
Well, partially, at least.
For the 2019 season, NASCAR is rolling out a new aero package aimed at making races more competitive at larger tracks. They want to slow the cars down and create more drafting, thus allowing the cars to stay bunched up longer.
This week in Atlanta, we're getting a taste of the package, but not the whole thing. And the implications of that are going to involve some serious hypothesizing.
The two big differences for the full 2019 package are a smaller tapered spacer than they've run in the past and the addition of aero ducts. The smaller tapered spacers limit the horsepower the engines can generate, and the aero ducts shove air to the side of the car rather than allowing it to run through the car.
For Atlanta, the tapered spacers will be in place, but the aero ducts will not. That means the cars will run much slower here than they have in the past, but the draft may not be as prominent as it was during a January test in Las Vegas. But we're still going to see some major effects.
The reduction in horsepower should -- in theory -- allow drivers to hold the throttle down longer and increase passing. When a similar package was used for the 2018 All-Star race, there were 11 lead changes in 93 laps, and the most laps anybody led in one stretch was 25. The year before, the All-Star race had just three lead changes in 70 laps.
Again, this isn't the same package they'll be running in Atlanta this weekend. But Atlanta is a sister track to Charlotte, the host of the All-Star race, so there should be some overlap in the action.
Sunday's race is 325 laps in length, giving us 32.5 points available for laps led in FanDuel's scoring rules. That's a significant number, and it has played a major role in DFS scoring in recent years.
Over the past four seasons, a driver has led at least 116 laps in each Atlanta race. It was Kevin Harvick every time, which seems a wee bit noteworthy for later in the week, but finding laps led has been a key to building great lineups at this track.
In this same four-race sample, there have been two drivers to lead at least 50 laps in every race but one. The reason a second driver didn't hit that mark in 2017 was because Harvick led 292 of them all by himself. If you have those two drivers on your roster and gobble up more than 20 points due to laps led alone, you'll be positioned well to post a huge score.
That's why this change -- even if it's only half of the new package -- is so huge for this weekend. If the reduced horsepower allows for additional lead changes, it could prevent one driver from dominating, creating a more even distribution of the points for laps led. That would allow us to look at drivers starting deeper in the pack, searching for upside via place-differential instead.
Even without the new package, cars were able to pass at this track. Two of the nine drivers who topped 50 laps led did so despite starting 19th or lower. Jimmie Johnson led 92 laps in 2015, a race he started in 37th spot.
Once we toss this all together, it seems like we have a bit of a formula for what to target in 2019. Until we get confirmation that laps led will be spread more thin, it does seem like we can still have some level of confidence in using drivers we think can jump out and dominate the race. After that, we'd be able to put an emphasis on place differential, targeting drivers starting lower in the pack who can log a good finish.
Again, this is still all a guessing game until we see the new package in action, which may not happen until final practice on Saturday, depending on how teams tackle Friday's pre-qualifying practice. We're going to have to make some adjustments on the fly based on what we see during those sessions.
Outside of those alterations, it seems like there is still some knowledge we can gain from looking at past Atlanta races, keeping the new aero package in mind while doing so. Let's look at what has happened here in the past from a scoring perspective to see if we can round out our thoughts for the weekend.
Historic Scoring Trends
Based on what we saw above, you would have expected two areas to score well from a FanDuel-point perspective. The first would be the drivers at the front who could jump out and lead laps. The second would be the drivers further back who finish well and soak up some place-differential points.
That assertion plays out well when you look at the data.
Over the past four Atlanta races, 11 drivers have been able to top 80 FanDuel points. Four of them were Harvick, thanks to his mountain of laps led. The other seven were all drivers who started outside the top 10, and five of them started 29th or lower. Most of these risers were fast drivers who happened to qualify poorly, but you can absolutely make up ground at this track.
In essence, the highest scores came from either the very front of the field or the very back. That's a trend you would expect to continue based on the discussion around the new aero package, and it may explain why NASCAR opted not to go with the full package for this track. It looks like they simply didn't need it to make the action exciting.
When we broaden things out to look at scores by starting position over the past four races, here's how they shake out. For the 2015 race, any driver who started or finished worse than 40th had their position rounded to be exactly 40th to account for NASCAR's current smaller field sizes.
The other thing that crops up when you look at this is that there were a few high-upside days from the middle of the pack. Johnson won from 19th in 2016, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 2nd after starting 16th that same year.
Essentially, this means you can generate a high-upside day from anywhere in the field as long as the car is fast. That gives you some flexibility to use a fast car in practice even if they're not starting in either the back or the front. And again, the new aero package should -- in theory -- make that even more true.
This flexibility line of thought also helps us because it means we don't have to enter the weekend with any fixed strategy.
At Daytona, we knew that pretty much no matter what, we'd have to stack drivers starting in the back of the pack. That's just an accepted burden there.
But in Atlanta, our strategies can change based on how things go down in qualifying. If several fast cars wind up qualifying poorly, we're going to be able to put a bit extra emphasis on place-differential points. If we can't find those drivers who will make up ground, then we can find our lap leaders before starting to pepper the middle of the pack.
Given the way things have worked in the past, we'll likely want to have two drivers on each team who are capable of leading laps. With 325 laps available, there's upside to be had there, and we don't want to ignore it.
But in some lineups, we'll want to be a bit less aggressive. If the new aero package does wind up increasing action at the front, it's possible there won't be two drivers who get significant boosts from laps led. We need to safeguard ourselves against that possibility.
This doesn't mean we should abandon the front. Drivers can still score well without leading laps because finishing points are a key driver of scoring on FanDuel. But it would allow us to mix and match a bit, going with one driver in the front for some lineups before shifting toward place-differential points.
Essentially, you want to mix and match here a bit. Once we know more about the new rules package, then we can have a more definitive strategy. But for now, we have to be willing to change on the fly.
Once we've got our one or two lap-leaders locked in, then we'll want to focus on place-differential points. Where we find those will depend on how qualifying plays out.
Over the past four Atlanta, races, 25 drivers have scored 65 or more FanDuel points while leading less than five laps. They've done so from pretty much every part of the field except for the front.
|Starting Position||Drivers to Top 65 FD Points|
|1st to 5th||0|
|6th to 10th||5|
|11th to 15th||5|
|16th to 20th||4|
|21st to 25th||4|
|26th to 30th||4|
|31st to 35th||1|
|36th to 40th||2|
And here comes that word again: flexibility.
As we've discussed throughout the piece, you don't need to be locked into one strategy for this race. If qualifying gives you opportunities to rack up big points via drivers in the back, you can take it for sure. But if that's not available, then drivers in the middle of the pack can also pump out some respectable days that will make a difference.
When looking for value plays, you'll want to hover a bit deeper in the pack, naturally. Those drivers won't generate as many finishing points, meaning they'll need some juice from place differential to give you a boost.
In our four-race sample, there have been some drivers who would have been value plays who have managed to score well. Ty Dillon in 2017 scored 64 points while finishing 15th after starting 26th. Cole Whitt moved from 37th to 20th in that same race, scoring 61.9 points. Casey Mears started 21st and finished 15th in 2015, enough to net him 61.4 points.
The generic template here seems to be cheaper drivers who will finish better than they're starting and have the ability to finish somewhere around 15th. If you can find a driver like that -- which seems a bit more possible with the new rules package -- you can feel comfortable spending down on them. Given our desire to potentially get two lap-leaders, we'll want to try to find one driver who fits this mold.
But in the lineups where we stick with just one lap-leader, then a balanced strategy may be the ideal route. Of the value drivers we mentioned, none scored more than 64 FanDuel points, which ranks 46th in our four-race sample. The upside of a driver who can't get a top-10 finish is really limited, and we should want to avoid it when possible.
As such, we should be paying down for these lower-upside drivers only when it allows us to get another driver with a huge ceiling, whether it be via starting in the back or leading laps. If we can't get that, then the reduction in ceiling is not worth the price it costs. Punting is an option, but it is not always the most desirable route.
Atlanta is going to be our first partial look into NASCAR's future. And it's going to give us a road map for how to attack the new rules package going forward. We just don't have that map yet, and we have to acknowledge that this is the case.
Because of this, we need to keep our options open entering the weekend. And this is something that has worked in Atlanta even before the changeover. Take what qualifying gives you, and accept place-differential points when you can find them.
If you watch practice on Saturday and see that drafting may be a bigger factor than anticipated, then feel free to put a bit less emphasis on laps led and try to find some drivers who will get place differential. If passing seems difficult, then drivers at the front will still have that upside for big days via laps led. We just won't know any of that before we actually see the cars on the track.
If we were to set a baseline strategy going into the weekend, it does seem like we would want to have two drivers capable of leading laps and getting a good finish and three who will get place-differential points. That's what has worked in the past. But if data from this weekend tells us something different, we need to be willing to be flexible and go with what the numbers and our eyes tell us.